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BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

Victims of sex crimes have higher risk for mental health issues

August 02, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • More than 800 T-shirts at UCLA serve as a reminder of the toll taken by rape, sexual assault and other forms of gender violence.
More than 800 T-shirts at UCLA serve as a reminder of the toll taken by rape,… (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles…)

It should come as no surprise that crimes like rape and sexual assault affect more than physical well-being – they take a toll on victims’ mental health as well. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. quantifies this, finding that women who experience gender-based violence are more than twice as likely as their peers to have some kind of mental disorder.

The results are based on a nationwide survey of 4,451 Australian women conducted in 2007. Among them, 27% said they had been the victim of at least one instance of gender-based violence. More specifically, 14.7% of women had been sexually assaulted; 10% had been victims of stalking; 8.1% were raped and 7.8% had been badly beaten by a spouse or romantic partner. Some women experienced more than one type of assault.

(For the sake of comparison, other surveys have found that 17% of American women have been raped and more than 20% have been victims of stalking or intimate partner violence.)

In Australia, 57% of the woman who were victims of gender-based violence had experienced some type of mental health disorder. That compares with 28% of women who had a mental health disorder but were never victims of these crimes.

Breaking things down further, the researchers found that women who were victims of one gender-based crime had a 31% lifetime risk of developing a mood disorder, a 39% lifetime risk of an anxiety disorder, a 23% lifetime risk of a substance use disorder and a 15% lifetime risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, 6.6% of these women attempted suicide.

The statistics were worse for women who endured three or four crimes. In that group, the lifetime risk of anxiety disorder rose to 77%, the lifetime risk of mood disorder was 53%, the lifetime risk of a substance use disorder was 47% and the lifetime risk of post-traumatic stress disorder was 56%. On top of that, 35% of these women said they had attempted suicide.

A summary of the study is available online here.

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